Body images in magazines: A cross-cultural investigation of media effects in Russian and U.S. young women

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The dissertation is a cross-cultural-generational investigation of audiences' perceptions of media messages. The study comparatively examines adolescent and young adult females' concepts of body images in beauty and fashion magazines in Russia and USA. The theoretical model for the study was developed in the intersection of mass communication and human development research traditions. Specifically, media effects and audience research traditions of media studies, in combination with social-cognitive domain theory of developmental psychology, were applied for analysis of direct and indirect impact of media messages on young women; of their motivations for reading magazines; of their critical evaluations of media content; and of their predispositions to media-associated health risks.

The study was conducted in two stages: mixed research methodologies employing qualitative exploration of the stated problem followed by its quantitative examination. A total of 20 participants (10 Russian and 10 U.S. teenage females) were recruited for in-depth interviews; this part of the study focused primarily on differences in media uses and perceptions between adolescent audiences across cultures. The hypotheses and the survey questionnaire for the second part of the study were developed on the basis of these qualitative data and used to test both cultural and generational differences among media audiences. A total of 400 survey participants represented adolescent (mean age=18.5) and young adult (mean age=28) females in Russia and USA.

Two major factors were found to be significant in determining perceptions of media messages by diverse audiences: (1) desire for advice about body-related issues and (2) desire for information and entertainment. Adolescent females were more motivated to read magazines for entertainment and informational purposes than adult women in both cultures, whereas U.S. females were more motivated by body-awareness than Russian females in both generational cohorts. In this connection, U.S. females experienced lower levels of self-esteem after reading magazines and were more predisposed to development of eating disorders than Russian females. The study revealed limited effects of media on diverse cultural and generational audiences, suggesting that media users select specific media content and are consequently influenced by it based on personal motivations for reading specific content of their interest.